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New $20 million playfield for youth baseball opens at former Tiger Stadium site


There are few spaces in Detroit that have changed so much, for so long, with so much attention as the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.

A rickety wooden ballpark arose there in 1896, and it gradually evolved into beloved Tiger Stadium. It has now been transformed into the Detroit Police Athletic League’s new playfield for youth baseball. In all, “The Corner” ­­ − as the site came to be known − has entranced Detroit for 122 years.

The Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL) project, funded with $20 million in donor gifts, opens to the public Saturday, March 24, and begins a new chapter for the park now officially named The Corner Ballpark presented by Adient.

“With the help of our generous donors, we have been able to build a new home for PAL and our 14,000 girls and boys,” says Tim Richey, CEO of Detroit PAL. “This new stadium is a statement of PAL’s commitment to the sports and programs we offer, and the youth of Detroit.”

The revamped site includes a 2,500-seat stadium and PAL headquarters. The artificial turf playing surface will be called the Willie Horton Field of Dreams presented by Meijer, in honor of the longtime Tigers outfielder, who grew up in Detroit.

Detroit PAL, a 49-year-old nonprofit organization, runs a youth mentorship and sports program for more than 14,000 Detroit boys and girls from across the neighborhoods of Detroit. The Corner Ballpark will also be a place for events gathering people of all ages from across Detroit and the metropolitan area.

“Detroit PAL is one of our exemplary nonprofits.  It has a nearly a half-century track record serving the young people of Detroit,” says Wendy Lewis Jackson, managing director of The Kresge Foundation Detroit Program, which contributed $1 million to the project. “Now this corner so rich in Detroit history can play a role in providing mentoring and athletics for coming generations of young Detroiters by the thousands.”

It’s also a reflection of change in the city of Detroit.

Black Detroiters often felt unwelcome at the stadium where the home team failed to recruit its first player of color until 1958, 11 years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier.

“The Corner Ballpark really is a symbol of progress, a symbol of diversity, a symbol for today and the future,” says Jackson.

Throughout the 20th century, the corner of Michigan and Trumbull had exerted a magical, Emerald-City-like attraction on many Detroiters. The successive ballparks there hosted tens of millions of people for Major League Baseball and National Football League games. There were also concerts, religious events, political gatherings, boxing matches and more.

Ty Cobb, one of the greatest ballplayers in history, played at for the site for 22 years, starting in 1905. Joe Louis, the hometown boxing champ, successfully defended his heavyweight title there in 1939. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s antiapartheid freedom fighter, appeared at a stirring rally in 1990 before a crowd of nearly 50,000.

Detroit became a baseball hotbed as it grew into a huge industrial center, and generations of fans – especially before color TV – fondly recall their first visit: walking up the stadium’s long ramps and being dazzled by the sudden sight of lush green grass surrounded by the stadium’s double-decked, dark green interior.

It was a place of great emotion: Passionate fans sometimes ignited crude bleacher chants, brawls and worse. On a more romantic note, couples got engaged over the stadium scoreboard and were married in the outfield stands. A few even had their ashes scattered on the field.

In the 1890s, the corner of Michigan and Trumbull was a picnic grounds and hay market. The local team, known simply as “the Detroits,” played in a minor league. The team built a wooden structure at the site and named it Bennett Park in honor of a popular player.

By 1912, the Tigers, as the team was now known, had joined the American League, appeared in three World Series and seen Bennett Park rebuilt into a 23,000-seat steel-and-concrete stadium called Navin Field after the team owner, Frank Navin. As Detroit boomed, the stadium gradually expanded.

In 1938 The Corner had a new name – Briggs Stadium, after new owner Walter O. Briggs – and the famous double-decking around the entire field, which was unique in the majors. In 1961, Briggs Stadium was renamed Tiger Stadium.

The last major-league game at The Corner took place Sept. 27, 1999 as the Tigers moved to the new Comerica Park. The stadium was demolished a decade later.

Tiger Stadium Through the Years
  • The Tigers’ Davy Jones at bat on a snowy Opening Day
    Photo credit: Burton Collection, Detroit Public Library
    Baseball in 3 Centuries

    The Tigers’ Davy Jones at bat on a snowy Opening Day 1911, at Bennett Park before 14,000 fans. The Tigers defeated Cleveland, 5-2, despite the flurries. The Tigers’ Old English D, seen on Jones’ uniform, continues as the team’s symbol 107 years later.  Baseball began on the site in 1896.

  • Map of Bennett Park 1905
    Bennett Park, 1905

    A map of Bennett Park in 1905 shows how it sat in the middle of a neighborhood of homes, businesses and a police station. Home plate, then at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, moved to the right field corner when the park expanded into Navin Field in 1912.

    Photo credit: Burton Collection, Detroit Public Library
  • View behind the plate of Bennett Park
    View from Home Plate

    The view from a seat behind home plate in Bennett Park, the first ballfield at Michigan and Trumbull in Detroit. (The date of the photo is unknown.) The first game was played at that site April 28, 1896, when the Detroit team, not yet known as the Tigers, played in a minor league. The newly named Tigers joined the American League in 1901. Bennett Park was expanded into Navin Field in 1912.

    Photo credit: Burton Collection, Detroit Public Library
  • Navin Field postcard
    An Open Expanse

    A postcard view of Navin Field, likely in the mid-1930s, as the stadium evolved into its final design in 1938 – complete double-decking, the first such ballpark in the country. By 1938, Navin Field’s shape was set for the rest of its existence until 1999, as its name changed to Briggs Stadium and then Tiger Stadium. The card gives an idea of the park’s vast, green landscape and green seats.

    Photo credit: Burton Collection, Detroit Public Library
  • Aerial view of Navin Field
    Aerial View

    An evolving Navin Field on Opening Day, 1930. With newly covered grandstands and an upper deck around the infield, the stadium began to resemble the double-decked ballpark that made its debut in 1938, and was well known to contemporary fans. The stands in the outfield were temporary, put in place for important games.  The corner of Michigan and Trumbull is in the upper left.

    Photo credit: Burton Collection, Detroit Public Library
  • Navin Field entrance, 1912
    The Ty Cobb Era

    The Navin Field main entrance, 1912. It was the first year the concrete stadium replaced rickety Bennett Park, which opened in 1896. Navin Field’s capacity at that time was 23,000; the number of baseball fans in Detroit was growing as the city expanded, and as Ty Cobb thrilled crowds with his brilliant batting, fielding and running.

    Photo credit: Burton Collection, Detroit Public Library
  • View of game from inside Tiger Stadium
    Tiger Stadium in the 1980s

    Detroiters loved the intimate feeling of Tiger Stadium, shown here in the 1980s, because fans sat closer to the diamond than in many major-league parks. The double-decked structure also produced a cozy ambience, shutting out the real world and creating an illusory field of dreams. The largest baseball crowd ever at Michigan and Trumbull – 58,369 – watched the Tigers take two games from the New York Yankees on July 24, 1947.

    Photo credit: Detroit Free Press
  • Tiger Stadium, National Anthem
    An All-Star Event

    A crowd of 53,559 watched the 1971 All-Star Game at Tiger Stadium, which the American League won, 6-4. The game featured a total of six home runs, including a blast from Reggie Jackson that bounced off a light tower on the right field roof. Making rare appearances in Detroit were National League super stars Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays.

    Photo credit: Detroit Free Press
  • Tiger Stadium, 1990s aerial
    A City Changes

    A lot has changed in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood since 1896, when baseball was first played at Michigan and Trumbull, seen here in the 1990s. The Fisher Freeway (I-75) runs to the north of the stadium, and numerous parking lots popped up in the area over the years as old buildings were demolished and fewer fans came to the park on public transit. The Detroit River, separating the United States and Canada, is on the upper right. Tiger Stadium was demolished in 2008-2009.

    Photo credit: Detroit Free Press
  • View of The Corner, a youth baseball field from Detroit PAL
    The Corner Ballpark

    The Corner Ballpark presented by Adient, which opens to the public March 24 as the Detroit Police Athletic League’s stadium, headquarters, banquet hall and state-of-the-art baseball field. The original dimensions of the former field are maintained.

    Photo credit: Detroit Police Athletic League